by Shanesha R. F. Brooks-Tatum (Project Coordinator/Writer, HBCU Library Alliance)
Fayetteville State University is the second-oldest bachelor’s and master’s degree-granting institution in the University of North Carolina System. It was founded in 1867 as the Howard School for the education of African Americans, the forerunner institution of Fayetteville State University. Now serving over 6,000 students, this North Carolina campus is undergoing a $38-million campus construction campaign to meet the growing demands of southeastern North Carolina.
The University’s library bears the name of Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932), successful African American novelist and the second principal of the Howard School. The Library’s archives and special collections department recently took on the challenge of preserving the history of its Chesnutt papers and other valuable collections.
Library staff identified several needs, which included preserving rapidly-deteriorating antique documents (some more than 120 years old) and making the collections more accessible. “It is one thing to preserve and quite another to make collections accessible,” Bobby Wynn, Director of Library Services stated.
With initial funding from the HBCU Library Alliance Mellon Foundation grant, the Library began its archival preservation efforts in 2008. Projects needing immediate attention were identified through a Lyrasis needs assessment survey. These included preserving scrapbooks in the Rudolph Jones Collection, historical photographs from the Charles W. Chesnutt family collection, and key documents of institutional history.
The needs assessment survey also confirmed the staff’s concerns about environmental conditions within the department, which posed an ongoing threat to the integrity and endurance of materials housed within the department. Despite the high demand, library visitors and researchers could not access the materials until the necessary preservation work had been completed.
The environmental monitoring project was successfully completed through cooperation with the Image Permanence Institute (IPI). Campus facilities personnel used IPI data to target the climate-related problems in the archives and ensure their conformity to the accepted archival standards.
Also, library staff developed a system of prioritizing which documents would be digitized. “It is extremely important that libraries evaluate the collections they have based on a set of criteria. Our criteria included historical importance, level of usage, physical condition, level of arrangement, and size. We gave each of these criteria a numerical value,” remarked Craig Tuttle, University Archivist.
Evaluation criteria enabled the Library not only to prioritize, but also to adjust the preservation and digitization schedule to fit changes at the Library. Before Craig Tuttle was hired as university archivist, the Library did not have an archivist on staff, since the position was vacant for almost a year. University of Delaware professionals and other consultants trained staff in preservation and digitization. Students were trained to assist with the project and consequently, exposed to the library science profession and archiving practices.
Along with Tuttle, Diana Amerson, Government Documents Librarian (previously the archival assistant) and Jan Whitfield, Head of Public Services, played a key role in the Library’s preservation efforts. “We had to consider the entire budget while taking stock of what supplies were available. In considering how to allocate the budget, we, of course, had to follow university policy,” added Amerson.
Scrapbooks were processed by Backstage Library Works and microfilmed. The digitized images of the pages were placed on DVDs and are currently being transferred to the Website. Eighteen photographs were sent to the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts for repair.
Library staff engaged faculty members in a project centering on the archives. Each year the Chesnutt Fellows Program pays ten Faculty Fellows stipends to participate in a yearlong program that assists them in incorporating ACRL standards for information literacy into their syllabi. “Collaboration is key,” shared Wynn. “We also evaluate how faculty are teaching with and without ACRL standards to gauge outcomes,” he added.
“Through this program we are able to make faculty and students aware of the rich archival materials housed at the Library, and the diverse ways that the materials can be used in teaching and research,” Tuttle remarked. Library staff encourage faculty fellows to assign activities that teach students to use the archives. “Since collections are digitized, students do not have to visit the Library to use the materials, but we do want to ensure that they are aware of what we have as well as the history of the institution that they are now part of,” Amerson shared.
This collaborative effort between faculty members and librarians is part of the University’s SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) Quality Enhancement Project. Additionally, librarians began a multimedia oral history project called the Broadell Project, in which they collected oral histories and subsequently cataloged presentations. “This garnered even more attention for the archival collections. Ultimately, the project not only improved archives but also served as training for faculty and staff,” Wynn stated.
“The Library is growing and expanding. Our focus is on working closely with faculty members so that through every point of contact, awareness of the Library’s diverse and valuable collections reaches even more faculty members and students,” added Wynn. The digitization efforts increase national and worldwide awareness of the unique collections at Fayetteville State University.
To learn more about Fayetteville State University’s Library, visit http://library.uncfsu.edu.
Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.